An environmental attorney told a federal judge in Spokane on Wednesday that no more water should be diverted from the Columbia River without a proper environmental assessment.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation received approval in 2008 from the Washington state Department of Ecology to divert 82,500 acre-feet of water per year from Lake Roosevelt.
A third of the water would remain in the river to support salmon habitat, a third would be used by cities or industries in central Washington and a third would be used by farmers to irrigate 10,000 acres east of Moses Lake.
The farmers have been relying on wells that draw down the Odessa Aquifer.
But two environmental groups – the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Columbia Riverkeepers – sued, claiming the bureau failed to prepare an environmental review of the plan as required by federal law.
In 2009, after the lawsuit was filed, the bureau released a “finding of no significant impact” and an environmental assessment of the Lake Roosevelt Drawdown Project.
The groups claim the $4.6 billion expansion of the Columbia River Project would imperil salmon and expose toxic sediment in the lake from a Canadian smelter at a time when global warming already threatens future water levels.
On Wednesday, Lauren Goldberg, an attorney for the environmental groups, told U.S. Judge Robert Whaley that the bureau’s assessments were still in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act because the assessments did not look at alternatives, nor did they consider the cumulative impact of the project combined with all other past, present and foreseeable projects in the Columbia Basin.
Goldberg called it “a prime example” of an agency focusing its study on what it had already decided to do.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Shockey, representing the bureau, said an assessment was not required until the state approved the water rights in December 2008.
“In terms of timing, we did it exactly right,” Shockey told the judge.
Both parties are asking for a summary judgment in the case. Whaley took the matter under review.